The first Democratic attorney general since the passage of Act 10, the controversial 2011 law that weakened public-sector unions, said he’s likely to defend it against a court challenge.
Attorney General Josh Kaul, who took office in January, told the Wisconsin State Journal he anticipates putting the Department of Justice’s lawyers to work to safeguard former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law that pitted Republicans against public employee unions, stirred weeks of massive protests and triggered an unsuccessful recall attempt of Walker in 2012.
“In any case, what we do is we assess to make sure that there was a defensible basis for statute, but I fully anticipate in that case that we will be defending state law,” Kaul said.
The 2011 law has received numerous challenges over the past eight years, but courts have upheld it. The law forces unions to recertify every year with a majority vote of all members, limits collective bargaining to an inflationary raise in wages and prohibits automatic dues collections, among other things.
The most recent challenge to the law, which Kaul referred to on Thursday, was brought earlier this month by two chapters of Operating Engineers of Wisconsin.
The case seeks to suspend parts of the law based on an argument it violates the constitutional rights of union members. The union chapters revived the case this year after voluntarily dismissing a suit they brought in 2018 to await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a case involving unions, Janus v. AFSCME.
As has become more frequent since the passage of GOP laws in December curbing some powers of the Democratic governor and attorney general, Republicans in the state Legislature early this week announced they intend to intervene in the new suit challenging Act 10.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, suggested Kaul may not defend state law passed by Republicans adequately, as attorneys for Republicans have argued in other cases.
“We cannot sit idly by and allow our attorney general or governor an opportunity to undermine Act 10, and will seek to intervene in this case accordingly to make sure that the law is upheld,” Fitzgerald said in a statement Monday.
Republicans have approved using hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to hire outside counsel to defend them in court in place of the attorney general.
Republicans were granted a motion to intervene in a case challenging the state’s laws that curb some powers of the governor and attorney general. Republicans were also allowed to intervene in a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s political maps, but were denied a motion to intervene in a case challenging the state’s abortion laws.
Kaul pushed back against such allegations that he won’t defend state law. He said his DOJ will work to defend state law when there is a legally defensible basis to do so.